- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 25, 2000

PYONGYANG, North Korea An impromptu quip by North Korean leader Kim Jong-il led to "serious" discussions with Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright yesterday to curtail North Korea's long-range missile program.

The talks came as Mrs. Albright wrapped up two days of precedent-shattering meetings with top North Korean officials here, including two lengthy private sessions with the reclusive Mr. Kim.

Mrs. Albright was to brief South Korean and Japanese officials on her talks in Seoul before returning home tonight.

U.S. officials traveling with Mrs. Albright said the potential breakthrough was spurred by a remark Mr. Kim made at a welcoming ceremony Monday night, as he and Mrs. Albright watched a 300-foot-high image of North Korea's three-stage rocket lifting off.

As the image faded from a giant screen covering the bleachers at Pyongyang's May Day Stadium, "he immediately turned to me and quipped that this was the first satellite launch, and it would be the last," Mrs. Albright said.

The discussions focused on fleshing out a deal to end North Korea's testing of long-range missiles in exchange for U.S. and international help in launching North Korean satellites into space.

North Korea stunned its neighbors and U.S. military planners with the 1998 launch of its new Taepo-dong rocket over Japanese air space into the Pacific.

Though North Korea claims it was merely sending a satellite into orbit, the missile test proved especially troublesome because it demonstrated for the first time a capability of hitting Alaska, Hawaii and possibly the West Coast.

The test fueled an all-out push by proponents of a U.S. national missile defense to deploy a system to protect Americans from missiles of rogue states, with North Korea often cited as the most likely culprit.

Mr. Kim had floated the possibility of giving up his country's long-range missile in a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin this summer if other nations would provide rockets to send its satellites aloft.

The unorthodox proposal created a stir when Mr. Putin disclosed it. But interest waned when Mr. Kim subsequently told visiting South Korean journalists it was only a joke.

But Mr. Kim's quip Monday evening suddenly made the idea the centerpiece of three hours of talks yesterday with Mrs. Albright their second such session in two days.

"We're dealing with the idea of exchanging launching for serious restraint" of North Korea's entire missile program, said a senior U.S. official traveling with Mrs. Albright.

The official, who asked not to be named, said the two discussed a broad package in which North Korea would halt its own missile development efforts and stop exporting missiles to such customers as Iran and Syria.

North Korea claims it earns $1 billion yearly by selling missile technology as well as its own version of a single-stage, Soviet-style Scud missile like the ones used by Iraq during the Gulf war.

After the successful launch of the far more advanced multistage rocket two years ago, North Korea offered to abandon the missile business if the United States or another international power compensated it for lost income an idea dismissed by Washington at the time as ludicrous.

In contrast, the senior U.S. official said after yesterday's talks: "What they've accepted is the idea of serious restraint on their missile programs and exports. We're discussing ways to achieve that."

Mrs. Albright said technical experts from the two nations would meet next week to begin discussing details.

The notion of using American rockets, or even having the United States help broker a deal to use other rockets, could produce friction among skeptical lawmakers on Capitol Hill, however.

Many, including House International Affairs Committee Benjamin A. Gilman, New York Republican, have accused the Clinton administration in the past of caving in to North Korean blackmail.

Some U.S. critics also have complained that the administration is moving too quickly to achieve a rapprochement with North Korea, the only nation to survive the Cold War without a substantial opening of its communist system to the outside world.

Both nations hailed the two-day visit, which ended today with Mrs. Albright's departure for Seoul, as a historic breakthrough.

The fact that the visit took place at all was remarkable.

The two nations have been bitter foes since the North's 1950 invasion of South Korea, which triggered a three-year war in which more than 30,000 American soldiers died.

Today, the United States maintains 37,000 troops in South Korea to deter North Korea.

Mr. Kim's willingness to meet Mrs. Albright for six hours over two days, host two banquets and bring the secretary of state to a spectacular gala of dancing acrobats Monday night took U.S. officials by surprise.

Equally surprising was the detail of negotiations between the two.

"The fact that we are talking at this level, face to face on these issues, is itself noteworthy and important," the senior official said.

Though overshadowed by missiles, which dominated the discussions, Mrs. Albright and Mr. Kim also sought to arrange a visit by President Clinton to Pyongyang before he leaves office.

Mrs. Albright said she would discuss her visit with the president before any decision is made on whether to come.

Mrs. Albright and Mr. Kim also discussed North Korea's past sponsorship of terrorism, but the senior U.S. official said the North Korean leader offered no new commitments.

North Korea wants to be removed from the U.S. list of nations that sponsor terrorism, a move that would make it eligible for aid from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

Mrs. Albright also pledged that the United States would continue to provide food aid as requested by the U.N. World Food Program to alleviate a severe food shortage.

In addition, she raised the issue of human rights for the first time at the Cabinet level.

"We have just begun our discussions on the subject. They obviously will continue," she said.

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